Friday, January 13, 2012

From Revitalisation to Revaluation in the Spence Neighbourhood

By Owen Toews

This paper takes as its subject the Spence neighbourhood, the area in Winnipeg bounded by Portage Avenue, Balmoral Street, Notre Dame Avenue, and Sherbrook Street.
After decades of disinvestment free from concerns over gentrification, the last decade has brought notable changes to Spence. In many ways, Spence remains a low-income innercity neighbourhood: the overall deterioration of the neighbourhood’s housing stock has continued and poverty is still very present. While many rooming houses and low-income rental properties have been converted to single-family homes, the proportion of residents who are tenants has continued to rise slightly, and still constitutes a large majority of the population. However, the neighbourhood is also undergoing a clear transformation and revaluation, with negative results for the lowest-income renters.
Three major forces have contributed to these changes. The first is Spence Neighbourhood Association (SNA), which has kick-started a process of investment in Spence, largely through its leveraging of public money for housing rehabilitation. This investment has led to a dilemma for SNA-one that is inherent in the problematic nature of market-based housing rehabilitation, attendant decreases in affordability and the resulting displacement of low-income residents, a process that amounts to incipient gentrification. The second is the University of Winnipeg (UW), as it enters a period of expansion, property acquisition, and construction. Responding to the cramped confines of its urban location and mobilized by a vision of the transformation of the historic spatial and social divisions between campus and community, the UW is spreading out on all sides. As investors and developers, SNA and the UW are major sources of confidence for private sector property-owners in Spence. The third player, landlords and property developers, have reacted to the climate of reinvestment nurtured by SNA and the UW by investing heavily in capital improvements to the Spence housing stock. Taking their cues from earlier processes of private investment in adjacent West Broadway, developers now see significant potential for the revaluation and transformation of the Spence neighbourhood.
This paper will examine the impacts of all three actors. It concludes that the public sector must intervene with a non-market affordable housing strategy to ensure that neighbourhood revitalization does not amount to displacement for the most economically vulnerable of Spence’s residents.

Spence Neighborhood green map, by street walkings

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